E3 isn’t for mobile gamers. It’s for hardcore, big budget, blockbuster home console gamers.
That’s what I thought until I strode into the south exhibit hall primed for a mobile games scavenger hunt only to find the EA Sports stand advertising the iPad 2 version of FIFA 12 on equal footing alongside Xbox 360, 3DS, and PS3.
I’d be lying if I said mobile gaming is as big a deal as home console gaming at E3, but it had a bigger showing this year than ever before, with crowds gathering to see high profile games like Minecraft Portable Edition and Shadowgun in action.
Here are the ten best Android, iPhone, and iPad games we saw at E3, in no particular order.
Sleepy Jack (SilverTree Media)
Sleepy Jack is SilverTree Media’s follow-up to critically acclaimed Android puzzler Cordy. It has the same adorable Psychonauts-esque presentation and solid gamplay.
You play as Jack, who’s not only sleepy but actually asleep, flying down an expanding and narrowing conduit. Your Z level – i.e. your sleep level – constantly depletes, so you need to collect Z’s to remain in blissful somnolence.
Though it isn’t all that blissful, since your dream is full of obstacles, bogeymen, and bosses that hack away at your Z level. Fortunately, you can shoot them, while flying through chains speed-up rings lets you power through planets.
The controls are solid and the gameplay is surprisingly tight and arcadey, with you weaving through waves of bullets and blasting bogeymen with your laser.
Minecraft Pocket Edition (Mojang)
The high point of Microsoft’s largely disappointing E3 2011 press conference was the announcement that Mojang’s Minecraft is coming to Xbox 360.
Sony Ericsson beat it to the punch by a few weeks with the announcement of Minecraft Pocket Edition for Xperia Play.
We had a go of the game at E3. It all works quite well on the device, though the keypad input method isn’t as smooth or intuitive as keyboard and mouse. It’s also a little basic in its current state, eschewing the various gaming bells and whistles that have come to adorn Minecraft since its first alpha release in 2009.
In case you’re somehow not aware of what Minecraft is, it’s a Lego-like experience in which you can create or remove blocks of ground, brick, water, and so on. There are no goals or targets – you just build, and then muck about in the world you’ve made. It’ll be out soon.
Let’s Golf! 3 (Gameloft)
In many respects Let’s Golf! 3 is just what you’d expect from the next in the excellent Let’s Golf! series – it’s nicer looking, with more exotic courses.
But in another respect it’s a big departure, because it’s entirely freemium. You download the basic game for free, and you can unlock courses and in-game items either by grinding or by stumping up real cash.
Perhaps confusingly, there are four different ‘currencies’: Coins, Cash, XP, and Energy. You earn Coins and XP by playing, using the former to buy items like garments that affect things like performance and how much currency you get for playing, and the latter to unlock parts of the game.
Your Energy depletes every time you play a round, and gradually restores throughout the day, resetting overnight. Once you’re out of energy you’re effectively locked out of the game until you either buy more or your energy rises.
The only thing you have to buy with real money is Cash, which buys you certain items that Coins can’t buy. It’s freemium, but the grinding looks genuinely enjoyable and the gameplay on the course is as fun as ever. Let’s Golf! 3 will be out soon.
Machine Gun Jetpack (Halfbrick)
We saw Machine Gun Jetpack at GDC earlier in the year, but Halfbrick has been adding to it since then.
The basic gameplay involves trying to get as far as you can from left to right, Canabalt-style, while dodging obstacles and killing people. The titular machine gun jetpack is just one of the vehicles at your disposal – as you play to come across vehicle icons that randomly buckle you into a teleport device, or a motorbike, or something else.
While not entirely freemium (it’ll be 59p/99c and universal), Machine Gun Jetpack will contain in-app purchases for in-game coins, which you use to buy various enhancements to your vehicles or other power-ups, such as one that gives you a fruit machine-style extra chance when you die.
It’s great fun, and it’ll be out some time in the next couple of months.
Shadowgun (Madfinger Games)
Developer Madfinger Games, of Samurai II fame, is making Shadowgun to showcase the Unity development platform. I saw it at E3 running on a Tegra 2 Android device through a big TV, though I played it on an iPad 2.
It’s a beefy, rusty, Gears of War-esque third-person shooter in which you have to make your way through grimy environments kicking doors open, taking cover, pressing buttons, and shooting hapless goons.
On-screen buttons let you shoot and move, while context-sensitive buttons appear whenever you can interact with something – a door switch, say. You take cover automatically.
And that’s it. There were no surprises in the demo build we saw, but the relatively slow pace of the Gears of Wars style gamplay format lends itself well to the sub-optimal input interface of a touchscreen. I expect it’ll be a solid offering, out later this year.
Contre Jour (Mokus)
Contre Jour, which translates ‘against the day’, is the latest polished platform puzzler from publisher Chillingo. Resembling XBLA hit Limbo, it’s a stylish, beautiful game with a haunting French-sounding score and Tim Burton-esque graphics.
The aim of the game is to guide a black blob called Petit – named after The Little Prince, around which the Contre Jour is themed – towards a glowing blue portal by pushing the group up to make slopes, as in Simogo’s Bumpy Road. You can also swing him from tendrils, in a manner resembling Cut the Rope.
There are 60 levels, and these two mechanics are in the first two, so you can expect plenty of inventive gameplay and charming presentation when Contre Jour hits the App Store some time in the next couple of months.
March of Heroes (Gameloft)
Gameloft’s much-heralded first Unreal engine game March of Heroes is a first-person shooter set in the Cold War.
There were two levels on display at E3 – a slow-moving underwater stage and a stage set in Vietnam, in which – after a long and cinematic cut-scene – your helicopter gets shot down and you have to fight your way singled-handed past some angry Vietcong.
March of Heroes is a showcase game for Gameloft, so it’s likely to be epic. What we’ve seen so far is solid, even if the benefits of the Unreal engine will be invisible to the casual eye. This is one to look out for when it hits some time this summer.
DrawRace 2 (RedLynx)
DrawRace 2, from Trials HD developer RedLynx, is to DrawRace what the Bugatti Veyron is to the Model T ford.
The fundamentals are the same – you have to go draw a line around the track with your finger, slowing down and speeding up at all the right places, before watching your car follow the line while racing opponents – but it looks like a completely different kind of machine.
While DrawRace was charmingly simplistic, DrawRace 2 is impressively fancy, with graphics resembling EA’s Reckless Racing.
There are plenty of modes and options, and neat touches like the skidmarks that appear where your car will skid when you’re tracing your line suggest that a lot of care has gone into making sure DrawRace 2 will be a hit.
Siegecraft: Crossbows Catapults (Blowfish)You’ve probably never heard of Siegecraft: Crossbows Catapults. The generic name doesn’t help.
But this forthcoming castle versus castle game is garnering some interest in the industry thanks to its polished presentation and accessible, frantic multiplayer gameplay.
The aim of Siegecraft, which based on the boardgame Crossbows Catapults, is to eliminate your opponent’s castle and defences using two weapons. You should be able to work out what they are.
Street Fighter IV Volt (Capcom)
Last year’s Street Fighter IV for iPhone was a bona fide hit. It had authentic, beefy presentation and touchscreen-friendly controls, and every few months Capcom improved it further with extra characters. It was the game that had it all.
All except one thing: online wi-fi multiplayer. And that, in a nutshell, is what Street Fighter IV Volt brings to the party.
The basic gameplay is unchanged, but the range of people you’ll be able to take on has grown from those who happen to be near you to everybody on planet Earth.
Three new fighters are also confirmed – Balrog, Vega, and Cody – while an announced forth will be along in due course, bringing the total number of combatants up to 18.
Street Fighter IV Volt will be out in the next few weeks.
Some other noteworthy games (the fact that these are out of the top ten doesn’t imply that they’re worse than the games above. I just didn’t play these as much):
FIFA 12 – interesting in that you can use your iPhone or iPod touch as a controller, allowing multiplayer on one device.
Reckless Getaway – like Doodle Jump, but in a car.
Star Legends: The Blackstar Chronicle – the latest game from Pocket Legends developer Spacetime Studios.
And Captain America – I’ve already said too much.